Non-food or environmental allergies are relatively common in children. Allergic reactions for these can occur when the allergen is inhaled, ingested or touched. Reactions range from mild to severe, although severe reactions aren't as common as those for food allergies.

What is a non-food allergy?

A non-food allergy is a reaction to an external substance (an allergen) that causes your body to switch on its immune defence systems. This causes histamines to be released which result in a range of symptoms including redness, swelling and breathing difficulties. These symptoms may vary from the mild end of the spectrum to severe cases where death can occur.

What are the risk factors for non-food allergies?

Some of the risk factors for a child developing a non-food allergy include:

  • exposure to smoking
  • a family history of allergies
  • having asthma
  • having eczema
  • having hay fever.

What are the symptoms of a non-food allergy?

Some of the mild to moderate symptoms of a non-food allergic reaction include:

  • a runny nose and persistent sneezing
  • watering eyes
  • red skin
  • a tingling mouth
  • hives, rashes and welts
  • vomiting and stomach pains.

Severe allergic reactions to non-food allergens are rarer than the same for food allergens. Still, severe reactions – known as anaphylaxis – do occur. Some of the symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • a swollen throat and tongue
  • paleness and floppiness
  • diarrhoea
  • wheezy or laboured breathing

If any of these symptoms occur, you must call an ambulance immediately. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and the Australian government advise that if an adrenaline auto-injector, like an EpiPen®, is available you should use this prior to calling an ambulance. Speak to your child health nurse about how to use one of these.

What are common non-food allergies?

Some of the most common non-food allergies include:

  • animal hair, fur and skin
  • insect stings (e.g. bees and wasps)
  • grasses and plant pollen
  • chemicals and chemical products
  • moulds and fungus
  • certain medicines.

Managing non-food allergies

Beyond giving your child antihistamines and the life-saving precaution of carrying an EpiPen®, you can take several preventative measures to manage non-food allergies.

  • Inform carers, specialists, friends and family members about your child’s allergies and what to do in case an allergic reaction occurs.
  • Wash and brush any pets regularly and separately to your house.
  • Declutter and regularly clean your house with a strong vacuum cleaner.
  • Reduce carpet and cloth covers in your home.
  • Wear insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing when outside. Avoid bright colours as these attract insects.
  • Keep windows shut during spring and summer months.
  • Pay attention to weather and asthma alerts.
  • Avoid common latex products in the house.
  • Use hypoallergenic products and chemicals around the home.